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Governor Edwards says state needs more majority-Black districts, but wouldn't promise a veto

Aubry Procell

Governor John Bel Edwards voiced support for adding additional majority-Black voting districts to the state’s election maps at a press conference Monday, but refused to promise he would veto a map that did not accomplish that goal.

“I don't have a practice of announcing in advance that I'm going to veto a bill before it reaches my desk, much less one that hasn't even received the final votes in both chambers,” Edwards elaborated.

The state’s Republican-controlled House and Senate have approved GOP-backed proposals that would maintain the status quo in the state’s congressional districts, despite Democrats’ objections and civil rights groups’ claims that such maps underrepresent Louisiana’s 33% Black population and violate the Voting Rights Act. Only one of Louisiana's six congressional districts is composed of a majority-Black population.

“We can all do math,” Edwards said. “One-third of six is two. Can two be drawn? The answer is yes, in any number of ways.”

The House and Senate committees at the center of the redistricting process have rejected every single map proposal that would have increased minority representation in the state’s congressional districts — a total of nine proposed congressional maps, all sponsored by Democrats.

Those same committees have also either expressed approval or have already approved similar maps for the state legislature, state Supreme Court, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Public Service Commission districts.

Edwards said he hopes that GOP legislators who have resisted adding another majority-minority district will change their minds, or they could run the risk of court intervention. Edwards also said he believes that giving minority communities more say in the state’s elections is fair and required by the Voting Rights Act.

“I think it's fair, and therefore it should be done regardless of the Voting Rights Act, but I also believe the Voting Rights Act speaks to this as well,” Edwards said.

The governor said he was “heartened” that Rep. Barry Ivey (R-Central) proposed a map that would add a second majority-Black district to Louisiana’s seven state Supreme Court districts, which moved through the House committee Monday, but reiterated his disappointment that it was state Republicans’ only acknowledgement of how the state’s population has changed since the last redistricting session a decade ago.

GOP lawmakers have argued that creating a second-majority Black congressional district doesn’t take into account the state’s traditional electoral boundaries.

Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee (R-Houma) said that’s what guided the map drawing effort undertaken by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales) and Rep. John Stefanski (R-Crowley), chairman of the House’s map drawing committee, when they presented a map with only one majority-minority district to the House on Thursday.

“My approach, the Speaker’s approach, on this bill was to honor the traditional boundaries of the congressional districts,” Magee said. “I believe that it represents the traditional communities of interest in Louisiana.”

Jared Evans, policy counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, replied to that argument by saying that for Black residents, “tradition means oppression” in regard to socioeconomic conditions, health, education opportunities and jobs.

Copyright 2022 WRKF. To see more, visit WRKF.

Aubry is a reporter, producer and operations assistant in Baton Rouge.

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